Your essential guide to Beijing

Mark Graham

By Mark Graham

Mark writes about China with an emphasis on travel, luxury and lifestyle for publications including Vogue China, Tatler Hong Kong, and Business Traveller

Find your bearings

Tiananmen SquareA short stroll from Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing is Tiananmen Square, the absolute centre of the capital city of the world’s most populous nation. The world’s largest public gathering spot is faced by the Forbidden City, the biggest palace on the planet, with almost ten thousand rooms. The vast scale and enormous sprawl of Beijing (it has some 21 million inhabitants) always astonishes visitors.

Feed your mind

Forbidden CityThe most wide-ranging and extravagant collection of Chinese cultural riches lies within walking distance of Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing. The Forbidden City, an architectural masterpiece, was where Ming and Qing dynasty emperors lived in glittering splendour. Allow at least half a day just to traverse the endless series of magnificent courtyards – having already observed its epic, vermillion-walled grandeur from the terraces of Mandarin Oriental.

The National Museum of China, located along the eastern flank of Tiananmen Square, displays artefacts, and treasures, from the nation’s three thousand years of continuous civilisation. Just off the western edge is the National Centre for Performing Arts which regularly plays host to the finest orchestras and ballet troupes from China and the world.

Shop like a local

WF CentralLovers of luxury are only a short elevator ride away from one of the city’s finest malls, WF Central, which carries all major designer brands. The air-conditioned slickness of the upscale boutiques contrasts with the rough and ready raucousness of Panjiayuan antiques market, a gigantic indoor-outdoor cornucopia of treasures. This is the place to find everything from tiny jade trinkets to towering stone statues of Chairman Mao Zedong.

One of the quirkiest souvenir stores is Plastered, run by Briton Dominic Johnson-Hill, which has T-shirts adorned with images of local icons, including Beijing subway maps, Peking opera performers, hot-water flasks and Goldfish washing-up liquid bottles. Another offbeat store, Beijing Postcards, features vintage images of Beijing people and places.

See some sights

Great Wall of ChinaNobody has ever been underwhelmed by China’s most renowned structure, the Great Wall, which snakes along the mountains outside Beijing. One of the best spots to marvel at this awesome engineering feat is the restored section at Mutianyu. Take the gondola up, hike along a section of wall, pose for pictures atop watchtowers, then hurtle down via the Great Wall toboggan run (a winding metal chute with individual sledges).

Other notable entries in the hefty Beijing catalogue of imperial-era treasures include the Temple of Heaven and the Drum Tower, which has regular performances by spirited drummers.

Toast your arrival

Bartender at work at MO BarSip a cocktail at the MO Bar while enjoying majestic views towards the Forbidden City; dusk is particularly magical as the fading sun highlights the rusty red of the walls. Later in the evening, a nightclub atmosphere prevails, with a DJ spinning sounds for Beijing sophisticates.

Make time to unwind

Spa pool at Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Outdoor fun can be found at Hou Hai Lake where there is boating in summer – and ice-skating in winter. If you’re after something closer to home, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing has a range of holistic treatments designed to sooth body and soul, as well as bespoke wellness programs.

Dine in style 

Interior of Cafe ZiFeasting on Peking Duck is an essential part of any visit and one of the most popular spots to learn the art of assembling duck, pancake and sauce is Siji Minfu. At Temple Restaurant Beijing, the fine-dining experience takes place inside a courtyard that was once used to turn out manuscripts for the Emperor. Why not sample Mandarin Oriental’s famous afternoon tea at Café Zi? Or enjoy dinner with spectacular views at the Mandarin Grill.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Spanning 15 regions in China, the Wall is 21,196.18 km in length

Forbidden City, Beijing

The Forbidden City

The Palace of the Forbidden City was home to 24 emperors before the abdication of Puyi 1912

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Temple of Heaven

The four supporting dragon pillars on the inner circle represent each of the four seasons

Summer Palace, Beijing

Summer Palace

The palace’s name when translated from the Chinese ‘Yi He Yuan’ literally means ‘the Garden of Restful Peace’

Roof of the pagoda at the top of Coal Hill, Jingshan Park

Time travel

The pagoda at the top of Coal Hill, located in Jingshan Park, to the north of the Forbidden City, offers an expansive view of Imperial Beijing and, in the early morning, tai chi practitioners going through ancient, body-stretching routines.

And finally

Sample a craft brew at Slowboat Brewery, named after the song Slow Boat to China, in Sanlitun. The Captain’s Pale Ale and Monkey’s Fist are two of the most popular brews.